Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Women of Weird Cinema

Here's a gallery of some of the actresses who've made their mark in weird cinema I've had the chance to meet over the years. Most were acquired at the Hollywood Collectors' Show in Los Angeles, first at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood, then at the Burbank Hilton. From left to right, top to bottom (click image for larger picture):

P.J. Soles. Had prominent roles in some of the greatest and most influential films of the 1970s: "Halloween," "Carrie" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School," as well as the comedy hits "Stripes" and "Private Benjamin." Recently, she was underutilized in William Lustig's "Uncle Sam" (good premise but surprisingly subdued effort from Lustig and "It's Alive"'s Larry Cohen). At least Rob Zombie cast her and killed her good in "Devil's Rejects." P.J. is experiencing a renaissance and is getting into voiceover work.

Vampira. I met her while Tim Burton was shooting "Ed Wood." Burton consulted her at length during preproduction. She was very interested in seeing how the final product would look but commented that Lisa Marie, who was playing her in the film, had too large a waist! (Vampira was famous for having a midsection so small that you could cup it in your hands and your fingers would touch.)

Julie Newmar. Funny and gracious. Her resume reads like the "greatest hits" of 60s TV history, including "Star Trek," "Twilight Zone," "Get Smart," "Beverly Hillbillies" and, of course, "Batman," as one of three actresses to play Catwoman during its run. Does anyone here beside me remember "My Living Doll"?

Lynn Lowry. Revered for some of the keystone films of the 70s: Cronenberg's "Shivers," Metzger's "Score," and Gershuny's "Sugar Cookies" with Mary Woronov, but most importantly as the murderous mute hippie in David Durston's "I Drink Your Blood." Her porcelain beauty and huge blue eyes led directors to cast against her looks: she seemed innocent but she could reveal a vicious and/or perverse streak, and she delivered time and time again! Durston was so taken with her when they met that he wrote the role of the mute for her (because it was too late to add dialogue) in "I Drink Your Blood." She looked great and eagerly talked about upcoming projects.

Susan Tyrrell
. She could play both insane harridans and raving beauties and did both with gusto in such films as "Fat City," "Andy Warhol's Bad," "Nightmare Maker" and John Waters' "Cry Baby." I met her at a Los Angeles performance of her one-woman show, "My Rotten Life: A Bitter Operetta" in 1999. She came out into the foyer after the show and generously mingled with the appreciative audience. Losing both her legs to a rare disease in 2000 has not stopped her zest for life. She just relocated to Austin; she still works, has her own myspace page and is as vulgar and outspoken as ever.

Linda Blair. This woman has done it all. After the landmark horror of "The Exorcist," she became the troubled teen in TV movies like "Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic," and "Born Innocent," whose broomstick rape scene provoked so many viewer complaints that congressional hearings about "family hour" were held. In the 80s she became the WIP (women in prison) go-to girl and even showed her stuff in Oui Magazine. Now she crusades for animal rights and is doing a terrific job. She's also a very nice person. I worked with a woman who bought one of her rescued dogs. Last time I saw her was at a PETA benefit screening of "The Exorcist" in 1999. Elvira introduced her, and the audience participation during the movie was hysterical.

Francesca "Kitten" Natividad. One of Russ Meyer's most famous beauties, she is also very gracious and projects a surprisingly innocent quality considering what she's been up to! Her filmography is an interesting mixture of adult projects, horror and spoofs. Tragically, she was forced to undergo a double mastectomy in 1999. Sweet and charming, she wasn't hesitant to offer me -- ahem -- some special videos she had under the counter.

Beverly Garland. Beloved late actress and owner of the eponymous hotel that the collector's show was held at for at least fifteen years. When I met her, she was witty and charming, and we laughed about the "alien carrot" in "It Conquered the World" as she signed the photo. My favorite story of hers, though, is during the shooting of "The Alligator People." A mad scientist in the Louisana Swamps is attempting to merge men with alligators. Why? Because he's mad! But in a key scene the creatures, who are in mid-transformation, come through a door to menace Beverly, but she thought their bandaged heads look like urinals. She laughed and laughed and it took forever to shoot the scene.

Betsy Palmer. The original Mrs. Voorhees in the original "Friday the 13th," she was first embarrassed by the film, saying that she took the part because she needed a new car! Now she has embraced her cult status, and there was even talk of her doing a cameo in the remake. Frankly, it would have been a waste of her time. Betsy was a regular on numerous television game shows in the 1950s, and this still is from "Queen Bee," a film she made with Joan Crawford.

Candace Hilligoss. Star of the surreal classic "Carnival of Souls" as well as Del Tenney's "Curse of the Living Corpse" (Roy Scheider's first starring role). She worked fervently to launch a remake of "Souls" in the 1980s with original director Herk Hervey (back before this new generation of love muffins), but by the time it came to fruition, it was a direct-to-video "Wes Craven Presents" disaster in 1998 and she was not involved.

Denice Duff. Star of the Full Moon "Subspecies" vampire series and "The Young and the Restless," she has gone on to direct a vampire film of her own. She was embarrassed that she had signed my photo "Bite me," but I thought it was great! It's about time for another "Subspecies" installment.

Carroll Baker. Star of the taboo-shattering "Baby Doll," which is still rated R on video for "thematic elements," Ms. Baker made a few other Hollywood films and then went to Europe for a series of bizarre Italian thrillers (giallos). She played the suburban hitwoman in "Andy Warhol's Bad," and was in-person as you would expect: cool, reserved and probably had lots of stories to tell if the mood was right.

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